GSA pauses Polaris contract to consider merits of pre-award protest

The General Services Administration (GSA) Headquarters building. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

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The General Services Administration on Wednesday halted the award of the $15 billion Polaris governmentwide acquisition contract while it assesses the merits of a pre-award challenge launched last month over how the prior experience of small businesses is treated as part of the solicitation.

In an update on Sam.gov the agency said it was “temporarily pausing” the request for proposals grouped under Polaris while it assesses the validity of concerns raised over the treatment of joint ventures.

In an emailed statement, a GSA spokesperson said: “After receiving feedback related to the evaluation of joint ventures under Polaris, GSA is currently assessing whether any changes are necessary for the RFPs.”

“While completing this assessment, GSA is temporarily pausing the RFPs until further notice. A subsequent amendment will establish a new closing date. Following completion of the assessment, the proposal due date will be extended accordingly. Offerors are encouraged to pause proposal activities until this assessment is completed,” the spokesperson added.

RFPs for the solicitation were published in late March after months of delays in issuing the final documents. The contract vehicle has two pools: one for small businesses and one specifically for women-owned small businesses.

The decision to pause the solicitation comes after federal contractor BD Squared last month filed a pre-award challenge, in which it argued that small companies such as itself could stand to lose out because the procurement terms currently allow firms involved in mentor-protégé arrangements to rely solely on the experience of larger, mentor companies.

In its complaint, which was filed with the Government Accountability Office, BD squared warned that the current methodology used by GSA in the solicitation to assess the experience of prospective contractors engaged in a joint venture could violate Small Business Administration rules.  

Despite the delay, contractors still have until April 18 to submit any questions relating to the solicitation, according to GSA.

Polaris is one of the most hotly anticipated governmentwide IT acquisition vehicles among federal technology contractors. It has an expected $15 billion ceiling and will allow government agencies to obtain a range of services including cloud platforms, cybersecurity and software development technology.

The contract succeeds the 8(a) STARS III and VETS 2 governmentwide acquisition contracts and is intended to further the Biden administration’s efforts to use the purchasing power of the federal government to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

Commenting on the decision to pause the RFP, federal contracting attorney Shane McCall said: “GSA has indicated they will resume the solicitation activity after they assess the joint venture issue. I tend to take them at their word on this.”

“I think there will be an amendment to the solicitation that addresses a requirement for proteges to include some past performance,” he added. “This is similar to the issue on which GAO sustained a protest last year related to use of mentor-protege past performance.”

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General Services Administration (GSA), governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC), Polaris
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